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Full text of "My country and my people"

THE    CHINESE    CHARACTER               65
of view and ideas taboo, and humour only lives on novel and original points of view. It is clear that such a conventional environment is not conducive to the production of humorous literature. If anyone were to make a collection of Chinese humour, he would have to cull it from the folk-songs and the Ytian dramas and the Ming novels, all outside the pale of the classical 'literature/' and in the private notes and letters of scholars (especially those of the Sung and Ming Dynasties) , when they are a little off their guard.
But the Chinese have nevertheless a humour all their own, for they always love a good joke. It is humour of a grimmer sort5 and is based on the farcical view of life. In spite of the extremely serious style in their editorial and political writings, which are seldom relieved by humour, they often surprise the foreigners by the extremely light manner in which they take important reform programmes and movements, like the Kuo-mintang agrarian programme,, the Sanrnin Doctrine, the flood and famine relief, the New Life Movement, and the Anti-Opium Bureaux, An American professor, recently visiting Shanghai and lecturing in the Chinese colleges, was completely surprised by the burst of laughter among the student audience whenever he made a perfectly sincere reference to the New Life Movement- If he had made a serious reference to the Anti-Opium Bureaux., he would have been met by still louder volleys of silvery laughter.
For humour is, as I have said, a point of view, a way of looking at life. With that view of life we are more or less familiar. Life is a huge farce, and we human beings are mere puppets in it. The man who takes life too seriously, who obeys library reading-room rules too honestly, who actually keeps off the lawn because merely a signboard says so, always makes a fool of himself and is usually subjected to laughter from his older colleagues, and since laughter is contagious, very soon he becomes a humorist, too.
This humorist farcicality then results in the inability of the Chinese to take anything seriously, from the most serious political reform movement to a dog's funeral. The farcical element in Chinese funerals is typical. In the grandiloquent funeral processions of Chinese upper and middle classesf you